Britain: Sacking the Hangman

"Great Britain is that peculiar country in Europe," Arthur Koestler once wrote, "where people drive on the left side of the road, measure in inches and yards, and hang people by the neck until dead." Hanging has indeed been a peculiarly British institution. During the 18th century, while capital punishment was being restricted elsewhere, the number of capital offenses under England's criminal law, which was commonly known as the "bloody code," increased fivefold, to more than 220. They included everything from associating with gypsies to stealing turnips.

The gallows and the gibbet were almost as commonplace as the village church, and...

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